Prior to its launch in March, Richard Rogers’ terminal 5 was being hailed as a design triumph. Within 48 hours of opening, however, Heathrow’s newest addition had become a national disaster. The furore had little to do with his handiwork, but this was an unusual turn of events for the 75-year-old architect, whose projects are far more used to making the transition from public scandal to ‘national treasure’.
A LIFETIME’S WORK
This is now a status afforded the man himself, as demonstrated by an exhibition at London’s Design Museum: Richard Rogers + Architects – From the House to the City. Presenting a survey of his career from the early days at Team 4, through the partnership with Renzo Piano, the establishment of Richard Rogers Partnership, and current and future developments, it achieves a rare feat: conveying the immense scope of a lifetime’s work while capturing a more nuanced essence of the man himself.
As well as the ‘early work’ and ‘work in progress’ sections, projects are arranged into colour-coded thematic areas: transparent, legible, green, lightweight, public, urban and systems. The result is a sense of fun as well as accessibility – characteristics synonymous with Rogers, both as an architect and a bon viveur.
Early sketches for the Pompidou, as well as the original competition report, are on display. While a master plan for the Pudong district of Shanghai is a reminder of Rogers’ fanatical zeal for improving and evolving urban space.
The unique influence Rogers has brought to bear on both the built environment and architectural dialogue within the UK itself is also brought into stark focus. From the House to the City was preceded by a Zaha Hadid retrospective and will be followed by a similar treatment of David Chipperfield’s work in April 2009.
Both enjoy a similar standing within the pantheon of contemporary UK architects, yet there is little physical manifestation of their work within the UK. Among Rogers’ innovations to have come into being in London are a walkway across the River Thames, a pedestrianised Trafalgar Square and the transformation of the South Bank into a social hub.
“Uniquely, Richard has addressed the world outside architecture and made a particularly distinctive impact on the way that policy is formed in Britain,” says Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic. “Whereas other architects of his generation have focused on developing substantial practices, he’s always been much more interested in the future of the city and influencing its direction.”
Whether new London Mayor Boris Johnson will be as amenable to these ideas as the previous incumbent should make for interesting viewing. What this exhibition demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt, however, is that Rogers certainly has the stomach for the fight.